Posts Tagged ‘DIY’

It’s been a few weeks since we announced our little project and so much has happened in the last few weeks. But before we get to that here’s a little bit about the house itself.

The Cottage

The estate agent described it as a “charming Grade 2 listed cottage with many original features and offers a tremendous opportunity to create an individual charming character house” Well, in spite of what people say about estate agents … on this occasion they were pretty much spot on!

The cottage is in Old Amersham which if you don’t know is a lovely little market town in the heart of the Chiltern hills. Most of the local property is old and built using timber frame construction. On researching the property it looks like it was built around 1740 and is considered one of the older property’s in the area.

There is a lovely Market hall which apparently dates from 1682 and more recently is known for the Kings Arms pub which featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Kings Arms Amersham

So how did we find the house?

Well, it was a warm sunny Saturday morning in January and we were taking Angus on his regular morning walk to the local park when we spotted a ‘For Sale’ sign go up on this charming little cottage in the high street. We’d been looking for a small renovation project for a while. Nothing too ambitious, just enough for the two of us to get our teeth into.

So we took a closer look and found it was a typical mid terrace period property with a modest garden, at the end of which was a beautiful crystal clear river. Looking beyond the river was the local cricket field complete with local pub. Just heavenly.

As soon as we came back from walking Angus we rang the agent and set up a viewing the very next day. (You need to move fast round here if you want something)

The viewing went well but it was clear this lovely little house was going to be a challenge, not least as it had suffered from major water ingress at some point probably leaky roof which had left a nasty stain in most of the upstairs ceilings.  Aside from the challenges brought on from the age of the property it had an open plan staircase probably from the 70’s and a large inglenook fireplace (with bread oven apparently) which had been boarded up at some point and replaced with a gas fire.

70's staircase

The boiler was in need of urgent attention and the heating system needed replacing.

There was no time to lose! We had to put an offer in as houses in the high street rarely come up for sale… and almost never within our budget.

Monday morning came and I picked up the phone to the agent and put in an offer. After haggling for 10 minutes we settled on a price!

Job done … or so we thought.

We then found out the cottage is grade 2 listed and in a conservation area (basically means we can’t touch the outside without the consent of the local planners and the conservation officer)

Building Survey

We commissioned a structural survey report and much of what we feared came true. This is clearly going to be a slightly larger project than we first thought but we are determined to get this beautiful little house back to its former glory.

Exchanged Contracts

On Friday the 7th of April we exchanged contracts and we’re scheduled to complete on the 19th when we finally get to collect the keys. We are both soooooo excited about the project and can’t wait to share our progress with anyone that wants to listen. 🙂

As soon as we have the keys we’ll post another update around how we plan to approach the project.

Back soon.

Best wishes.

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Ideas for a hobby - Woodturning

I was thinking earlier today just how lucky we are to have our hobby’s. They really are the perfect antidote to the stress of the daily grind i.e. work.

I have the garden which is fab of course, but it’s about this time of the year my attention shifts from the garden to indoors … or inside the workshop on my lathe to be more precise.

It was about 7 years ago when I met my woodturning friend Stuart through a friend. Stuart is an extremely accomplished wood turner and what he doesn’t know about woodturning you could get on the back of a stamp!  He’s also a thoroughly nice bloke.

When I met him he was in the middle of making a few items for a special event. After a long chat and several cups of tea I knew I needed to give this woodturning thing a go.

If only I could reach a reasonable standard perhaps I could make a few things for the house? It certainly sounded like a lot of fun but potentially dangerous fun so I’d definitely need some guidance on the health and safety side of woodturning.

I seem to remember doing a bit of wood turning when I was at school when I was studying for my CSE’s as they were then (barely studied at all to be honest).

My class were 5C and for those of you that may remember the 70’s we had a TV comedy show in the UK at the time called Please Sir which was about a gentle teacher (Smiffy) and his somewhat boisterous class of adolescent teenagers who were also called 5C.  I seem to remember there were striking similarities with my class, but one thing I do remember is I really enjoyed woodworking with Mr Woodward (yes that really was his name). I still have fond memories of making the obligatory fruit bowl on the old school lathe.

Great times … life was so much simpler in those days.

Anyway … Back to the present and after much thought, I jumped in the car and headed off to Axminster Tools and bought me a small hobby lathe and at the same booked me a couple of lessons with Stuart.

It took me about a year to become proficient to the point where I was confident and safe and it was about another year before I finally got around to making something I thought worthy of bringing into the house.

Table Lamp

This is the first finished piece I made for the house. It’s a bedside lamp I made for Tania from a piece of English Yew which still has pride of place. It has a slightly unusual twist pattern which I think gives it a kind of unique look and presented a few challenges when I was making it.

It’s functional which is pretty much what I try to achieve with everything I make on the lathe. Take this table I made a few years back.

Home made Mahogany table

It’s made from a couple of mahogany table tops that the local school were throwing away to make way for a new classroom.  Absolutely nothing wrong with the wood. All it needed was a little care and attention.

The top of the table and the stem are turned on the lathe and the legs are made using a band saw to cut the sections and regular hand tools to achieve the finished shape.

How to make a round top occasional table

For the top I took 2 boards, planed them flat and glued them together to get the extra width I needed for the top. I cut a rough circle shape on the band saw and then mounted it on the lathe to get the perfect circle and to add the edge detail.

It turned out ok in the end … and to think the wood nearly ended up in a skip!

I’m planning to make a few Christmas presents on the lathe this year. I’m thinking Christmas tree decorations. I can make them on the lathe using the branch thinnings from the beech tree which we removed in the summer and use some wood dyes to add a little colour. I just need to remove the wood from the inside or I can’t see them hanging on the Christmas tree too well!

Make your own Christmas decorations

I might attempt to paint a nativity scene on the side or persuade my mother in law as she’s learning to paint at the moment.

I’ll keep you posted as they progress and probably post a few pics if they turn out ok.

Back soon.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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The New Potting Shed Area

Phew! … At last we finished the new outbuilding, well almost. It was all going so well until Saturday afternoon when things definitely didn’t go to plan!

For those that follow the blog you’ll know way back in March we decided to build new timber frame working space that would double up as a workshop and potting shed for the new nursery business.

The plan was to complete the build in time for the growing season, but I had no idea it was going to take so long. With John working in London 5 days a week we only had weekends which is fine except as amateurs it takes us much longer as we’re learning.

We build all our outdoor structure using a frame of 4″ x 2″ treated softwood (from local builders merchants) which is clad on the inside with OSB sheet and on the outside with 6″ treated feather board. Insulation is glass fibre blanket as we had a couple of rolls left over from the house build (nasty nasty stuff  …the sooner it’s banned altogether the better).

Learn How To Build A Workshop

We bought a fairly cheap standard door made from pine which should last a good few years. It’s actually under the roof space and protected from the rain so providing we look after it it should last for years.


My worst fears realised … 

The very last task on the build was to fit all the glass. So with the weather set fair for the weekend we planned to finish the project.

We were advised to use laminated glass for the larger pieces at the front as the height is pretty much floor to ceiling and it wouldn’t be safe to use regular glass. Everything was going so well, the weather was good, in fact it was like mid summer on Saturday afternoon.

I fitted the first sheet no problem. I used putty and chamfered wooden bead that I’d prepared in the workshop to save some cost. The next 30 seconds will live me forever.

I can’t even remember what I was doing but somehow I managed to catch one of the other two remaining pieces. In what felt like slow motion as one pane fell face down on the solid concrete floor catching the other remaining piece on the way down. CRASH!!!

Both pieces hit the floor with the most painful crashing sound. 😦 My worst nightmare had been realised. Two sheets of laminated glass at a £110 each lay on the floor smashed.

A few choice words later I quickly realised there was nothing I could do. The damage was done, I’d learned a very expensive lesson. I wiped away a tiny tear and got on with clearing up the resulting mess. At least I now know the guy at the glaziers was right … laminated glass does only crack, I can vouch for that!

Learn How To Build A Workshop

At first all I could think about was how costly a mistake this was but later in the day I realised how fortunate I was not to be anywhere near the glass at the time as I feel sure I would have tried to catch it from falling which doesn’t bear thinking about.

If you ever have to fit glass into a building or perhaps you’re fixing a broken pane in your house my advice … store the glass well away from the area you’re working. Had I done so then I’d be celebrating closure on a new project. Instead now I have two pieces of OSB sheeting where there should be 2 panes of beautiful laminated glass.

We plan to post a special feature on constructing your own out buildings which will have all the details of the materials and construction methods used and some great tips we’ve learnt along the way.

In the mean time any questions do let us know and feel free to leave us a comment.

Weekends seem so short don’t they.

Here’s to the next one!

Best wishes,


John And Tania The Rural Gardeners



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For those of you that follow us on a regular basis will know we’re expanding our back garden plant nursery.

Well it’s been raining today which is has brought out the best in the plants and so I thought I’d share a few pics. All these plants started life as softwood cuttings in June 2012 and 2013 and have produced these wonderful looking plants. I’m not sure why I sound so surprised, but it still amazes me you can grow all these wonderful plants for virtually no outlay.

How To Start Your Own Plant Business

How to start your own nursery

We’ve also been busy over the weekend with our new building project. I’ll post more detail around the construction methods next week but wanted to share a few pics with those of you that are following our progress.

Hope your Easter weekend was a good one!

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners








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Time to build a wood store

Well I don’t know where you are in the world, but the weather in Hampshire of late has turned decidedly colder and my thoughts are turning to heating the house. We have underfloor heating, but the oil is so blooming expensive at the moment that we’re having to rely on the wood burning stove to provide the majority of the heat this winter.

It produces loads of heat from one of our most under utilised naturally occurring fuels, Wood. What’s more if you’re prepared to source your own logs it can be one of the cheapest methods of heating your house.

I’ve even taken to making a few logs using old newspapers. My sister lent me her paper log maker, which to be honest makes pretty decent logs, and if you mix them with regular logs they generate a fair bit of heat.

The only snag is we don’t really have anywhere to store loads of logs so they end up sitting on the drive, which isn’t ideal. So nothing else for it but to build a wood store.

Over the coming weeks (weather permitting) we’ll be sharing how we went about the build and the methods we use, which are all based on previous projects and what we’ve managed to pick up in books.

The design we’ve chosen is fairly simple and based on a building we saw when we visited the gardens at Heligan a couple of years ago, but nothing nearly as grand I should add.

It’s a basic rectangular shape with a pitched roof and timber planks on three sides.  We have the ideal spot, right next to the workshop, but first we need to remove an overgrown Spirea bush that won’t transplant.

Had to chop the Spirea down I’m afraid as it was just to large to transplant

It was here when we arrived, but unfortunately it’s right in the middle of where we want to build  so it just had to go.

Preparing the groundwork.

The garden is on a gentle rise from front to back  which meant removing about a ton and a half of top soil and chalk before it became anything near level.

The foundations of the timber structure

The roof and walls are going to be held up by two rows of three 4 x 4 inch pressure treated posts.  A tip if you ever have to sink any posts into the ground, try to bury at least a quarter of the post into the ground. That way it will be in nice and firm.

Not long before we hit the chalk bed.

As we’re using 8ft posts for our build we made each hole 2  foot deep, then added a 3 inch layer of shingle in the bottom of the hole to help drain any water that might collect at the bottom of the post.

Finally each post was firmed in with a single bag of post cement mixed with a few of the flints that came out when we were digging the holes.

Eventually finished sinking the last post around 2.00pm on Sunday afternoon, which I didn’t think was half bad considering we also moved around a ton and a half of top soil in the process.

All six posts are in nice and solid … notice the massive root ball from a massive shrub we had to remove before we could start

If the weather holds in the week I’ll carry on excavating the rest of the soil and prepare the base.

Next weekend we’ll move on to building the roof structure and the walls.

Can’t wait to see it finished!

Back soon.

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We’re continuing with our series on how to build your own workshop and I’m pleased to report despite the freezing cold weather we’ve made steady progress. If you haven’t read the part 1 then it might be worth having a read as we take you through building the foundations and the timber frame construction.

Although it may be seen as simply a shed it’s still important to make sure there is plenty of insulation to keep the heat in and the cold out!  Also helps to insulate some of the noise from the power tools! 🙂


On this occasion we used glass fibre insulation but I have to say I hate the stuff and will look for an alternative in future. Having stuffed it full of insulation as much as possible we added a layer of heavy duty plastic sheet (spare damp course membrane I had hanging around) to the outside of the building to which helps limit the wind leaving the insulation to trap any warm air inside the structure and keep any moisture out. We got the idea from our house build.


Cladding the outside
Having completed the insulation and general construction we added feather edge fencing board to the outside. I like the rustic finish it gives to the building. If you have a close look at the photo you can see the ice on the boards as we were putting them up. It was absolutely freezing the day we started the job. Huge thanks to my son James for staying with it even through the coldest of weekends.

A tip for you if you plan to use feather board for a shed or even if you’re building a fence is to make a template spacer to the size of gap you want between boards. Use any old piece of scraps 2″ timber cut to length. It will save you hours of measuring … but do remember to check the levels every 2 or 3 boards. If you don’t there is a chance you’ll get to the end of a run and it won’t be level. Oh and one last tip, don’t drive the nails right in until you’ve finished the job just in case you need to take them off for some reason. Try getting feather edge off without splitting it when it’s fixed … nightmare!


I made the doors for the front and side and the small window at the front out of prepared soft wood and then gave the whole building two coats of water based preservative. Finally giving the softwood doors an extra coat by way of belt and braces.

Since we built the workshop we’ve built a new wood store which you you can read about how that came together using the links below:

Part 1 – How To Build A Wood Store (Foundations and basic structure)

Part 2 – How to Build A Wood Store (Cutting the roof)

Part 3 – How to Build a Wood Store (Finishing off)

Best wishes,

John and Tania.

PS: If you found this useful please click the Like button and feel free to pass on to anyone you think might be interested. The more the merrier!

LATEST NEWS (May 2015) – If you’d like to know how the building has stood the test of time then click the link below for an update.

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One of the first projects we have to undertake before the build can progress is to build a new workshop. Basically we need a workshop for tools and accessories and additional storage for the various materials we’re going to need over the coming weeks and months for the new build.

Initially we looked at buying an off the shelf shed/garage but for the size we wanted the best price we could find was just under £2,000! and that’s without foundations or any insulation, essentially just your basic shed in fact.

Tommy Walsh built his own workshop out of timber frame so we thought we might go for a similar build. The cost of all the materials came in at just under £1,400 and this included 150mill of insulation, a solid floor a pitched roof and in all likeliness would be made from longer lasting materials.

John is looking to post some plans in the future for anyone thinking of building their own workshop. If you’d like details please drop your email details to and we’ll let you know just as soon as they are available.


The first part of the project are the foundations on which we could build the main the timber frame construction. Start by building a frame from 6″ x 1″ shutter boards. Your builders merchant can help you with that one. When working out your sizes add an extra six inches to the actual size to be on the safe side as you don’t want your building sitting exactly on the edge of the base or it may crack the edge of the base over time. I use 2″x2″ post at each corner and half way along to fix the boards to.

Into the frame I break up about 4 inches of hardcore then on top of this I add approx 2″ layer of sharp sand. Helps to stop the hardcore from piercing the damp course. Next a  layer of thick plastic sheeting to stop moisture coming up through the floor, often referred to as a damp course membrane.

Onto this I laid about 3 inches of concrete mixed at a ratio of 3 parts ballast, 1 part sharp sand and 1 part cement. When you have the cement in spade it flat and tamp (basically flattening and removing the air) until it’s nice and level. I find the easiest way is to take a long length of four by two timber long enough to stretch across the width of the base. Then I drag the timber across the foundation frame in a backwards and forward sawing motion. Eventually the concrete will find a level. If you have holes or pockets throw some more concrete mix in and tamp again. Keep checking until you have a smooth surface. Put the work in now and it will pay dividends later when you start the timber frame.


I chose to build the foundation walls using concrete blocks, which provide a level base for the timber frame to fixed to.  As soon as the blocks had gone off nice and hard I laid a 4 x 2 timber plate all the way around the perimeter and fixed using heavy duty screws and plugs.

Sole Plate

This pic is from a later project where I used bricks instead of concrete blocks but it shows the sole plate quite nicely.

Timber frame construction

Each section of the workshop was constructed using 4″ x 2″ pressure treated timbers and fixed to the timber plate using 3.5 inch screws. I’ve found the easiest way to construct the frame is to lay each section (wall) out on the lawn and build it first. Cut everything square and to size and you won’t go far wrong.

When you have each of the walls built fix them to the sole plate with a couple of screws while you check everything is nice and level in the corners. Quick tip … make sure you have a long spirit level as your standard DIY spirit level won’t cut it I’m afraid. Employ the help of a friend or family member to hold the corners together while you drill screw and fix. I used 3″ decking screws which worked just fine but depending on the situation you might want to use bolts.


Next came the roof which was also constructed from 4″ x 2″ pressure treated timber, which is actually much easier than you think. Tommy Walsh built a full size template from a sheet of OSB plywood which if this is your first build is probably worth doing. Rather than go into too much detail here take a look at a later build here where I explain in a little more detail how to construct the roof.



Next job is to clad the roof. I used 18 mill plywood as it covers really well and doesn’t take too long to put it down. You’ll need an extra pair of hands as the sheets are heavy. Alternatively you could cut them down to a smaller size I guess. Onto this I add a layer of roofing underlay finishing off with a good quality grade roofing felt.

You don’t need to use the underlay but it does add that little bit of extra integrity to the roof. Notice we left about a 10″overhang at the end of the ridge beam. This is to ensure the rainwater is kept away from the structure as much as is reasonable.

The inside is clad with OSB board which is much cheaper than plywood and works fine and as it’s inside the building I wasn’t worrying too much about the finish. I know I wanted wood on the inside as I wanted to hang my tools anywhere without having to worry about finding the studs.



I think you’ll agree it’s starting to come together quite nicely!

In part 2 we’ll look at adding some insulation and finishing off the build.

Best wishes,

John & Tania

Part 2 – How to Build a Workshop

PS: If you found this useful please click the Like button and feel free to pass on to anyone you think might be interested. The more the merrier!

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